It was during our orientation tele-conference that I first heard the theme. Our Palestinian host and guide invited us to come and witness their over 100-year struggle against oppression and occupation, a struggle for human dignity and freedom. “Come,” he said, “find out why we are still standing, why we are hopeful, in spite of the catastrophe. As we live with apartheid, racism, discrimination and walls, discover why we are still smiling. This is our strength.”
It didn’t take long for me to encounter the hope he bragged about. On the very first day, I was awed by the power of resistance I encountered at every turn – individual and communal resistance, structural resistance, physical, mental and emotional resistance – and an overall refusal to accept injustice or inhumanity of any kind. Grass roots networks of resistance abounded, and in journaling my experiences that day, I reflected upon what it means for resistance to be a way of life.
Here again, I encountered a theme that wasn’t new to me – in fact, I’ve spent countless hours reading, researching, writing, teaching, and even preaching about resistance. And yet, the power of resistance took on a whole new dimension as I witnessed a palpable spirit of communal resistance among so many who shared their stories. When I encountered the popular slogan to exist is to resist, I began to understand the depth of meaning of resistance for a people who have endured the attempts of both physical and cultural genocide. I knew I had much to learn about what it means to not just engage in resistance, but to embody resistance at the core of your identity.
As I attempted to articulate the spirit of resistance I was encountering, I journaled,
Resistance is enacting what limited freedom you have available to you. Claiming what dignity you can salvage. Living as fully as you can despite living under the thumb of the oppressor – and refusing to let the current powers that be fully control your behavior, your thoughts, your identity, your life….
Resistance is not without consequences. Many we met have served years in prison. Many have been further denied access to precious resources. Whole towns and communities have been punished for the resistance of one of their own. And yet, people resist. Individuals resist, communities resist, and networks of resistance appear and enact what they can for the sake of themselves, their people, those who they’ve lost in the struggle, those they love who are kept from them, and the young people who know only the lies they’ve been told.
The resistance we encountered was a resistance to inhumanity – a refusal to allow anyone, or anything, to lessen your identity as a human being. Our translator articulated this well when I asked her who/what she understood to be her enemy. She explained, “my enemy is anyone who doesn’t see me as equal. Anything that is unjust to me – not just people, walls. All that represents inequality. I demand a simple life with dignity.” She went on to clarify that she didn’t ask for much in the world. She didn’t need cars, or lots of material wealth. But she did demand dignity. She deserved to be treated with the basic respect any human being is entitled to. Resistance isn’t merely an act of survival, it is an act of proclaiming one’s humanity, despite anyone, or anything, that would seek to deny this.
In addition to the resistance we encountered among the Palestinians, there was great hope, and deep connection, in participating in an international delegation of people committed to the work of resistance in our own communities. Sharing stories and songs, laughter and learnings, we celebrated the power of resistance across our lands, and were deeply encouraged to know that our struggles are not isolated, and we are not alone in our efforts of resistance.
As I enter into a new year, I carry with me the lessons of hope and resistance I learned in Palestine. I resolve to do what I can to participate in resistance in the year ahead – in my community, in my country, and in the world. Even more, I resolve to be a part of an ever-expanding community of resistance. It is this larger community that I will continue to learn from and draw strength from as the need for resistance grows ever greater.
Join me in the way of resistance!